By Subhash K. Jha
You know you are being taken for a ride. You know it's all a masterly make-believe. But the packaging and presentation are so intriguing, the efforts to take Hindi cinema away from the rhythms of a routine narration are so pronounced, you smile at the sheer novelty of this satirical stress-buster.
BLUFF MASTER is cinema without punctuation marks. You cannot but marvel at second-time director Rohan Sippy command over the language of cockiness.
BLUFF MASTER is an extremely cocky film. It's sly and slender in its purpose, but wise and hefty in the methods it adopts to achieve that purpose. The narration frog-leaps from unrelieved farce to passages of subtle maudlinism. Abhishek's thoughtful elegant performance helps the director make those leaps without mishap.
He takes you from postures of stealth and coolth to a man who has just got to know he's going to die.
No hysterical hi-jinks for our hero, this time. When the freaked-out doctor Boman Irani reminds him of his approaching death, Abhishek, playing the title role in a titillating celebration of satire and cerebration, goes into a retro-shell.
You wish the film had clung to that emotional core, explored the underbelly of mortality through Abhishek's marvelous expressions of tragic inevitability-watch him in that sequence where he catches his betrayed and hurt girl Simi (Priyanka Chopra) at her door to confess he's dying.
She sniggers. He smiles knowingly… Or that well-crafted sequence in a shopping mall where after hearing him confess that he loves her, she catches him lying for the umpteenth time… these are moments that could have defined the hero's duplicitous character in sensitive splendour.
But the film isn't about the rude awakening of a desensitized conscience. It's about… what??? That's the question. There's a core of humanism at the tale's most basic level. Writer Sridhar Raghavan skims over the core issues (for instance commitment phobia in urban lifestyles, materialism versus spiritualism, the working-girl's crisis of dignity). Cutting through the chase Raghavan's rocking and rolling screenplay goes straight for the kill.
No one really dies in BLUFF MASTER, not the 'dying' hero, not his blasé conscience, and certainly not our interest level, which Sippy keeps alive through his extravagantly syncopated narration.
Besides the sheer velocity of Abhishek's emotive faculties one of the joys of watching BLUFF MASTER is to see Mumbai's crowded craggy scruffy bylanes… the trashy underbelly has been captured on Himman Dhamija's camera with urgent and anxious fastidiousness.
Here's a film that respects its ambience without glorifying it. The same goes for its characters who are caught in postures of pantomime, not always convincing.
Nana Patekar's over-the-top villainy is a case in point. He's uncouth character is outrageously narcissistic, and incredibly cartoonish. Some of the best lines go to Patekar. Imagine he sits with floozies on his lap and drawls, "I'm an old-fashioned kind of guy. To me, a laptop is still what it used to be."
And then at the climax on top of a windswept building when Abhishek embraces his sweetheart for what he thinks to be the last time, Patekar interrupts, "That's the problem with you youngsters. You start anywhere not caring about the people around you."
Tongue-in-chic, ultra-cool and nobody's fool, BLUFF MASTER achieves that strange synthesis of spoof and caper which our audiences are not quite prepared for. You can't fault the director's sense of timing because he has none. One minute his hero is crying with his partner about that devil of a thing called death… the next minute he's caught in a crazy pillow fight with doctor Boman Irani.
The all-encompassing satire leaves you neither warm not cold. It leaves you untouched. The tumble of gags is smart and sassy. But they are also symptomatic of commercial Hindi cinema's mid-life crisis. We all know we want a change. But we don't know where to go.
"Sometimes you can tell a film by its trailer," Patekar tells us. "Then don't buy the ticket," retorts Abhishek.
Don't listen to him. Go see this film for its insouciant take on life and laughs, and for Abhishek's controlled performance, his eyes providing a window to a soul that the film lacks. Riteish Deshmukh as his sidekick shows how dependable a support system he has become. Priyanka Chopra has little to do. But she does it with eye-catching aplomb.